Standoff over refugees
MALTA yesterday reiterated its refusal to open its ports to an NGO migrant rescue ship in the Mediterranean with hundreds of people on board, ignoring calls from Italy’s hardline interior minister to not “look the other way”.
Some 629 migrants were saved by SOS Mediterranee on Saturday and are stuck aboard the French NGO’s ship Aquarius, which is between Malta and Sicily waiting for a secure port at which to dock and secure assistance.
Matteo Salvini, in a joint statement with Danilo Toninelli, minister in charge of the Italian coastguard, insisted that Malta “cannot continue to look the other way when it comes to respecting precise international conventions on the protection of human life”.
“That’s why we ask the government in Valletta to take in the Aquarius in order to offer first aid to the migrants on board,” the statement continued.
Malta’s Government said Prime Minister Joseph Muscat had spoken to Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte, and underlined “that Malta is acting in full conformity with its international obligations”.
“As such Malta will not take the said vessel in its ports,” the statement continued.
Media reports earlier said Mr Salvini had threatened to close access to Italian ports for migrant rescue ships if Malta failed to act.